Depression and food intolerance

People more at risk


Exposure to fumes and perfumes
Antidepressant side effects

Withdrawal symptoms


Illness linked to air fresheners and steroids

Reader reports
Further information 

Keywords: depression, anxiety, fatigue, suicide, suicidal, obsessive compulsion, social phobia, paxil



Depression, anxiety, unexplained tiredness, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts and actions, obsessive-compulsive disorder and social phobia can be associated with foods.

See what this young girl, who attempted suicide several times, has to say (video, MP4 2.4Mb) about the effects of foods.


One father in the Northern Territory who was doing the elimination diet to support his son chose to do the amine challenge first because he thought he wouldn’t react. ‘How wrong can you get!’ he wrote in his account of the challenge: 

'I had a violent reaction within a few hours and have never felt so awful in all my life. Here are some of the symptoms: depression, suicidal tendencies not just thoughts, melancholy, looking for an argument, feeling the whole world was against me, lethargy, shakes, pressure on the skull and tingles in the extremities, feeling of hangover, inability to focus on thoughts, ringing in the ears, inability to sleep. The hungover feeling lasted until the next day. Not the best 24 hours but at least I know there is a cause for symptoms that I have experienced in the past.’

People who experience symptoms like this are in the most sensitive category for food intolerance. They are likely to react to a large number of food chemicals and even small mistakes in their diet can cause long reactions. Amines are not the only food chemicals associated with symptoms of depression – any food chemical can be a problem, and people are different which is why the elimination diet is needed to clarify which food chemicals affect each individual. You will probably suffer withdrawal symptoms at some time during the first two weeks, and your symptoms will probably recur during challenges, so it is important to be supervised by an experienced dietitian, doctor or counsellor during your diet.

Several years ago, a report in a medical journal described the case of a 25 year old patient from a stable and caring family. A university graduate, the patient had a history of attention deficit disorder without hyperactivity, motor tics, generalised anxiety, social phobia, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder manifested mainly in checking compulsions and five years of severe depressive episodes which were non-responsive to a range of psychotropic drugs. After four weeks on the RPAH elimination diet, his mood and other symptoms had improved considerably. Double blind placebo controlled testing revealed that the patient was severely affected by salicylates and later tests showed effects of food additives. While staying on the diet, the patient was able to remain symptom free. When reviewed after a year, he had been able to return to full time work. The Mood Disorders Unit at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, Sydney, is now carrying out further studies into the food-depression link.

             People more at risk


Due to female hormones, women are more at risk during their childbearing years, particularly while premenstrual and after giving birth. One woman I’ll call Margaret described herself as ‘a chronic bitch for two weeks out of every month’, also suffering from severe cramping, heavy bleeding and frequent clots. After her first baby, she suffered from postnatal depression:

‘Straight after my son’s birth I knew something was wrong. When I got home I just sat in bed staring into space. I couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t do anything, couldn’t sleep. I would start panicking when I heard the baby cry. My mother had to come and look after us, doing all the work and bringing my son to me for feeds.’

When her second child was born, the same thing happened, but this time she started the elimination diet for her breastfed baby's eczema when her baby was four months old. 'I felt better than I had for months,' Margaret recalled, but after weaning went back on her normal diet and again started feeling anxious, overwhelmed and unable to sleep despite antidepressants. She knows now she should have realised she needed to go back on the diet but it seemed too hard. 'I was in denial. For me, giving up chocolate was a really big thing'.

It took Margaret 18 failsafe months to wean herself slowly off antidepressants. During that time her PMS, other menstrual problems and depression all disappeared and challenges showed that she was sensitive to ‘nearly everything’. She says ‘If someone had told me when I first got postnatal depression that my problems were due to food intolerance, I would have gone on the diet straight away.’


An anxious seven year old with learning difficulties improved so much during a three week elimination diet that as a reward his mother offered him anything he wanted in the supermarket. He chose an icypole with seven artificial colours, BHA (320) and artificial flavours. That day there was no reaction, the next day there might have been a problem, then on day three, the family saw a massive 'bad and sad' reaction. First, the boy 'turned into a monster' and no one wanted to have anything to do with him. Then he sank into a deep, dark depression. He wanted to hurt himself, he wanted to be dead. As his mother said, 'It was awful and so dramatic. He was aware of what caused the reaction and never wants to eat one again'. Yet this family, like so many others, had never noticed any effects of foods, because when problematic food chemicals are eaten every day, effects appear to come and go with no obvious cause.

Another family discovered through the elimination diet that their eight year old daughter's depression was linked to amines. After two years on failsafe, the mother wrote:

'Pre-failsafe she was mildly depressed, as well as lethargic, pale, anxious, dizzy and "spacy". Her amine challenge resulted in severe depression including bouts of suicidal thoughts and almost psychotic agitation. Based on pre-diet behaviours, she had been classified as having a highly anxious temperament. A number of health professionals have told us they expect to see her back during her teenage years, meaning so they can give her antidepressants. However after two years failsafe she shows no signs of mental illness in any form and no longer seems a candidate for anxiety and depression.’

From story [474] My 10-year-old daughter recently started becoming tearful and depressed sometimes - I was amazed when she worked out it was a reaction to sharing her Dad's chips - 'It's the flavour enhancers Mum, they just make me want to cry for no reason'.

             Exposure to fumes and perfumes

As well as food chemicals, you might need to consider your exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or smelly chemicals such as pesticides, airfresheners, perfumes and perfumed cleaning products, toiletries, solvents, building chemicals and some flame retardants which have been linked with sick building syndrome. This condition includes a range of symptoms such as eye, skin and throat irritation, headaches, lethargy, dizziness, nausea and memory disturbance, and some VOCs have been linked with depression. In particular, certain flame retardants in soft furnishings such as mattresses and lounge suites could be a problem. When flame retardant TCPP (trichloropropyl phosphate) was tested on thousands of laboratory rats, four studies out of nine listed ‘depression’ as the main clinical sign while the others listed hunched posture and lethargy. This chemical has never been tested on humans.

Although the Australian National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) reported neurological effects and recommended more testing, it didn’t happen and the product is now in widespread use. For more details, watch for an update of the Fumes and Perfumes factsheet.

             Antidepressant side effects


When a new class of antidepressants known as SSRIs came on the market in the 1980s they were viewed as relatively harmless.

Now, experts – those who are not paid by the pharmaceutical industry - regard these drugs such as Prozac (fluoxetine, Lovan), Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine, Aropax, Seroxat) and many others – as doing more harm than good.

Reviews of previously unpublished evidence and some new research have shown that:

Akathisia – a reader report

By 1997, British psychiatrist Dr David Healy – who had written a report recommending the use of antidepressants in children - changed his mind when he noticed his in-tray “filling with files on teenagers committing suicide within a week or two of commencing Prozac”.

The risk is highest when just starting or after stopping the drugs. In July 2001, a jury in Wyoming ordered manufacturers GlaxoSMithKline to pay $US 6.4 million to the relatives of Donald Schell after Schell, 60, shot and killed his wife, daughter and baby granddaughter before killing himself. He had no previous history of violence and been taking antidepressants for just two days.

Dr Healy conducted a trial showing that SSRIs caused even some healthy volunteers with no history of mental illness to become agitated, and in some cases, suicidal.

In our network, a failsafer with absolutely no history of depression or mental illness was given fluoxetine by her doctor to help with irritable bowel symptoms.

“I spent a whole night awake, I felt so restlessness I didn’t know what to do with myself, I couldn’t do anything except pace the floor, all night. I had suicidal thoughts. I have never experienced anything like it. I would NEVER take this stuff again, or give it to my kids”.

This is the current Prozac/Lovan/fluoxetine warning:

"Persons taking Lovan (also known as fluoxetine or Prozac) may be more likely to think about killing themselves or actually trying to do so, especially when Lovan is first started or the dose is changed. Tell your doctor immediately if you have any suicidal thoughts or other mental/mood changes", accessed 15/07/2016

A study of nine years of data, published in 2010, showed that the suicide risk is the same across all SSRI drug types.

Stopping antidepressants: withdrawal symptoms

It is now acknowledged that stopping antidepressants can cause withdrawal symptoms in about half of all patients.

WARNING: people who have been prescribed antidepressants should not suddenly stop taking their medication. Gradual tapering is advisable. Anyone considering altering the dosage of their medication, or withdrawing from it, needs to seek medical advice first.
A member of our network who took antidepressants for six years after developing postnatal depression described how after going failsafe, she felt she no longer needed the tablets but was unable to stop taking them due to severe withdrawal symptoms. “Don’t get me wrong’, she wrote, ‘for a few years I needed it but this medication is addictive”. Eventually, she managed to wean herself off antidepressants over a period of nearly 18 months by proceeding slowly, with a minimum of two to three months for each reduction stage, reducing to one tablet every second day (every day date divisible by two) then gradually extending the medication free days in-between until she was down to one tablet every seven days. Now she is “managing well so long as I keep failsafe”.

Reports of withdrawal symptoms can include electrical 'shocks' to the brain, dizziness, extreme nausea, crying spells, lightheadedness, vertigo, coordination problems, gait disturbances, sweating, vomiting, high fever, abdominal discomfort, flu symptoms, agitation, irritability, aggression, sleep disturbance, nightmares, tremor, confusion, memory and concentration difficulties, lethargy, malaise, weakness and general fatigue.

Useful resources about how to wean yourself off antidepressants

Guide to stopping antidepressants

Resources for coming off psychiatric drugs

Psychiatric drug withdrawal resources

Easy to read, useful information of all kinds about antidepressants

The role of medication in anxiety treatment



Illness linked to air fresheners and aerosols

Mothers are more likely to experience headaches and depression in homes where air fresheners and aerosols such as deodorants, hairsprays or polishes are used daily, according to a new study. Babies in high use homes are at significantly higher risk of earache and stomach ache, diarrhoea and vomiting. Researchers led by Dr Alexandra Farrow from the University of Bristol’s ongoing Children of the 90s project believe the problems may be a result of exposure to VOCs (volatile organic compounds) used in aerosols. The study will be published in the Archives of Environmental Health. Daily Mail, London, 20/10/04.


There is a compelling account of a teenage girl’s ‘living hell’ due to aspartame (artificial sweetener 951) addiction. In three years, she went from being a ‘vibrant, outgoing person’, top student and athlete competing in the world championship games in Europe to being a depressed, overweight ‘lump of flesh on the family-room couch’ drinking 10-15 cans of diet drink a day.

Unable to deal with her depression, and after unhelpful experiences with a series of doctors, the teenager finally saw a news report on aspartame and decided to stop drinking diet drinks. When she first tried to stop use she experienced shaking, nausea and a tremendous urge to have a diet drink. She wasn't able to stop immediately so she gradually cut down the number of cans each day until she had quit altogether ... and her depression finally lifted.

There are also reports of chest pains, blurred vision, skin rash, headaches in temple area, behaviour outbursts and seizures related to aspartame in chapter 2, The Aspartame Story, in Feeding the Brain by Dr CK Conners (published Guilford Press, 1989 – he’s the same Dr Conners who developed the well-known Conners rating scale for children’s behaviour).

             Reader reports

See a 51 page collection of success stories about depression, anxiety and panic attacks

Reader’s story: [390] Mixed depressive disorder with anxiety and obsessive ruminations including self harm due to salicylate sensitivity (March 2006)

My 6 ½ year old son, Tim (not his real name) is currently undergoing investigation of mixed depressive disorder with anxiety and obsessive ruminations. We have used the failsafe diet in the past with one of our other children, but had not ever thought of foods being linked to Tim’s mood problems. When you mention the “gifted and depressed” child in your recent talk my ears immediately pricked up and took note. Tim has been identified as highly gifted and everyone has been saying that is the cause of his problems but I have always felt there was something else underlying that was contributing. We will be contacting our GP today and hopefully starting the failsafe diet ASAP…

Two months later …

Since starting the elimination diet Tim has not self harmed once! He is much calmer and has noticed this in himself. He no longer seems to be as restless and has been falling asleep easily at a reasonable time in the evenings. We started with the salicylates challenge this week and there seemed to be no reaction, until day 5/6 when we started to notice his behaviour was getting worse. We will stop this challenge tonight and wait to try some other groups. His GP and Clinical Psychologist are both thrilled with the change as are well!

One week later ….

After I emailed you we finally had the BIG reaction we were looking for. It happened on Day 7 of the salicylate challenge - we had already stopped the challenge that morning. Tim went to bed as normal then began to write swear words all over his bed, his sheets and his body. ("I was angry with you because I couldn't fall asleep") This is the behaviour and obsessive ruminations this poor boy was experiencing on a daily basis before the elimination diet, which we have not seen until this challenge.– by email.

[447] ‘Fear of the dark’ really a food reaction (August 2006)

We started the diet nearly a year ago for my son, a sweet 5 year old who would become an aggressive, extremely hyperactive and an emotional monster nearly every day. I saw you on A Current Affair and after taking muesli bars and sultanas (which I had thought were healthy) out of his diet I noticed most of his aggressive behaviour disappear.

After that we started the full diet and not only did our son become an angel, we noticed that our daughter was a very strong amine reactor, becoming uncontrollably emotional, depressed and ‘full on’, as well as having frequent nightmares and bedwetting. Unfortunately since we have moved 2 months ago our son has gone backwards fast, I now think as a result of amines in meat from new butchers. It is so upsetting to see all the progress disappear, and he has had HUGE problems at school this term. I have traveled back to our old butchers to stock up on meat and am started to see some improvement after one week.

The biggest shock for me however, was when I recently discovered I was a food reactor!! I was a junk food addict and would eat about 5kg of chocolate a week. I can’t believe now I had so many symptoms, and I never even put them together as symptoms, let alone found the source of the problem! I was getting migraines, I constantly had a headache behind my eyes, I felt very faint and disoriented, had stomach pains that felt like needles - usually after eating lollies, and I was always bloated - something which really upset me.

The weirdest thing to attribute to food however was my extreme ‘fear of the dark’ as I called it. I would be terribly scared of the dark, I would think that my mind thought it could see little people and things out of the corner of my eye, even though I knew they weren’t there, I would open my eyes every 10 seconds while trying to get to sleep, just to check if there were monsters or robbers there, and every time I closed my eyes all I could picture in my head was horrible things that would scare me. I was a bit worried I was starting to go crazy, then I stopped eating chocolate and didn’t even notice all these symptoms disappeared.

It wasn’t until I splurged on a whole chocolate cake over two nights that I discovered what had caused these problems. After eating the cake I was completely on edge. I couldn’t sit down for ten seconds without turning around to make sure there were no monsters or robbers behind me. Eventually I had to sit with my back to the wall so I wouldn’t think there were things behind me. That was the last time I ate chocolate, and the thought of ever eating it again scares me! – by email.

Changing intolerances

Q. I have a son in his thirties who has been on the diet since the age of 6 (salicylates, preservatives, colours and dyes are the problem, not amines). Unfortunately, he has recently begun getting quite serious depression and is seeing a psychiatrist who just keeps prescribing different anti-depressants as none seem to work. I recently wrote a letter to the psychiatrist explaining my son’s dietary problems and the symptoms he gets. The psychiatrist told him that all food intolerance is psychosomatic. You can imagine how much help that was. Are there any psychiatrists or counsellors who understand this chemical sensitivity problem? While he does try to stick to his diet, I do suspect there may be too frequent diversions from it or something is catching him out he is not aware of. Trying the elimination diet again is something I think I shall try to persuade him to do.

A. Symptoms of food intolerance can change throughout the lifespan, and it is not uncommon to find the foods that caused hyperactivity in childhood can cause depression in adulthood. There is case history describing a young adult with a history of childhood ADD whose severe treatment-resistant depression improved dramatically on a low salicylate elimination diet (Parker G and Watkins T, Treatment-resistant depression: when antidepressant drug intolerance may indicate food intolerance, Aust N Z J Psychiatry, 2002). The article concludes that clinicians should be aware of food intolerance-related depression and that it may be worsened by psychotropic medication. You can request our list of supportive health professionals - including some psychologists – from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. It may be worth consulting a dietitian, as safe foods for this diet change constantly and your son could be following an out-of-date diet. To send the article’s abstract to your son’s psychiatrist, send a link to this page on PubMed.


Parker G, Watkins T, Treatment-resistant depression: when antidepressant drug intolerance may indicate food intolerance, Aust N Z J Psychiatry, 2002:36(2):263-5.

Hamilton MS and Opler LA, Akathisia, suicidality, and fluoxetine, J Clin Psychiatry 1992;53(11):410-6.

Kingsland J, The rise and fall of the new wonder-drugs, New Scientist vol 183 issue 2454, 03 July 2004, p36.

Healy DH, Correspondence between Dr David Healy and the Medicines Control Agency,, Also 'teenagers committing suicide', letter to the CMA dated 4/11/99, same URL

Healy D, Lines of evidence on the risks of suicide with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, Psychother Psychom, 2003;72(2):71-9.

Transcript of BBC Panorama program, 'The secrets of Seroxat', first shown on ABC Four Corners 28/4/03 as 'The hazards of the happy pill',

Glaxo lawsuit, New Scientist, vol 182 issue 2451, 12 June 2004, p4.

Guidance on Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): use and safety, 2014, UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency MHRA database

             Further information

Introduction to food intolerance
Suicide prevention by diet factsheet
Blog: The suicide report

See the Failsafe Cookbook by Sue Dengate. Pages 11-12 deal with food chemicals most likely to be related to depression.

foodandmood   Food and Mood ebook by Jude Burger gives a personal account and also a great video talk

Information on antidepressant withdrawal is available on

Thank you to the failsafe families who have shared their experiences so that others can benefit. You can read more of their stories in Success Stories.

Support for parents and teens about teen drug use, not necessarily failsafe, at

The information given is not intended as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor for underlying illness. Before beginning dietary investigation, consult a dietician with an interest in food intolerance. You can see our list of experienced and supportive dietitians 

© Sue Dengate update July 2016